BSF vs Bangladesh media

BY Nava Thakuria| IN Media Practice | 20/06/2005
The Daily Star investigates BSF allegations and declares them unfounded.

Nava Thakuria, Guwahati

Bangladesh media, though polarized to a great extent in political party ideology, has long been proactive. Recently a prominent English daily from Dhaka has made an outstanding effort to study the information related to the business activities in Bangladesh of an insurgent outfit from Northeast India, and then report accordingly.

The controversy related to seven hotels, allegedly run by United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) in Bangladesh started with a press meet of a Border Security Force (BSF) Inspector General. The IG (for Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland frontier) S C Srivastava claimed on June 3 in Shillong that the banned armed outfit was running the hotels with three bank accounts in Bangladesh.

"ULFA is running seven hotels of international standards in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet of Bangladesh and also operating three bank accounts in that country," quoting Mr Srivastava, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported. Mr Srivastava went on explaining the details of the hotels adding, "Three of the hotels Surma International were located in Dhaka - Taj Mahal road, Hotel Mohammadia in Mirpur and Padma International in Banani."

Revealing the details of the bank accounts of ULFA, Mr Srivastava was mentioned as saying that the accounts "were traced to Arab Bangladesh Bank`s Farm Gate branch in Dhaka (account number 5266709/15), Arab Bangladesh Bank`s Zinda Bazaar branch in Sylhet (a/c no 025401/08) and Al-Barakah Bank`s Pahartali branch in Chittagong (a/c no 09/229472)."

The Bangladesh police as well as the foreign ministry spokesman were prompt enough to deny all the allegations as baseless. The Bangladesh Inspector General of Police Abdul Qayum, while responding to the Dhaka based scribes, denied having such information. "We don`t have any such information ... It seems incorrect to me," he said. The IG was also quoted as saying that they "would check out the information as they customarily do whenever any allegation comes from India."

The Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs also rejected the allegation outright. Quoting the spokesman of the Ministry, the media on June 6 reported about Dhaka¿s stand regarding the allegation of the BSF IG (that ULFA runs hotels and bank accounts in Bangladesh.) Terming the allegation as ¿unfounded and baseless¿, the spokesman clarifie d that Bangladesh did not allow insurgent or extremist groups to conduct operations against any other countries.

Later the additional Inspector General of Police Anwarul Iqbal also refuted the claims of BSF IG. "We thoroughly investigated into the allegations of BSF official S C Srivastava and found those are totally baseless. There is no hotel or bank accounts (run by ULFA) as informed by the BSF IG," Anwarul Iqbal asserted in a press conference in Dhaka on June 12, saying it was "a propaganda against Bangladesh". The additional IGP also demanded that "BSF should submit evidence in support of its claim directly or through the Interpol."

The version of the Bangladesh police was echoed by an investigative reporting by an acclaimed English daily of the country. In a front page reporting on June 7, "The Daily Star" flashed the findings of its investigation regarding the ULFA¿s hotels and bank accounts. The report with the headline "BSF`s ULFA claim found false" claimed that the so-called hotels run by the militants of Assam was non-existent. The claim that the ULFA members are operating accounts in two private banks in Bangladesh was also proved false in the investigation, said in the report.

The reporter, as narrated in the news item searched the entire Mirpur-Pallabi area (of Dhaka) in vein to find any hotel named Mohammadia. Similarly, the reporter examined all six blocks on Tajmahal Road in Mohammadpur, but found no hotel named Surma International there. The search was conducted on Babar Road, Humayun Road, Shahjahan Road, Noorjahan Road, Iqbal Road, Sher Shah Suri Road and Salimullah Road in Mohammadpur and the result was found negative. After roaming in the entire Banani and Gulshan areas, the reporters affirmed that there was no hotel named Padma International. "The Daily Star" news correspondents based in Chittagong and Sylhet also looked for the other ULFA hotels in the prescribed areas but did not find anyone.

Quoting the officials of Oriental Bank, formerly Al-Barakah Bank and Arab Bangladesh Bank, the reporter asserted that the investigation exposed the incorrectness of the BSF official`s claim on ULFA¿s bank accounts. Even the said banks reportedly do not have branches in the mentioned areas. "We have no branch at Pahartali in Chittagong," said Imamul Haque, deputy managing director of Oriental Bank. Similarly the Arab Bangladesh Bank disclosed that they do not have any branch at Farm Gate in Dhaka and at Zinda Bazar in Sylhet.

The next day¿s edition of "The Daily Star" published an editorial on the findings of the investigation into BSF¿s claim that turned out to be without ¿an iota of truth.¿ The editorial (on June 8) went on narrating, "It is hard to accept that the BSF believed in such unsubstantiated report and even more, attempted to make all others believe in it."

"It defies our comprehension that a government functionary was even allowed to go public on a matter that has the potential of unnecessarily souring good neighbourly relations between the two countries." One would have expected the BSF to doubly verify its claim of ULFA running commercial ventures in Dhaka topped off with maintenance of bank accounts, before making such claims ad nauseum in public, said the editorial.

Also argued, "It would have been much better had proper channels been used to address the `concerns` rather than going public with claims that can only detract from good bilateral relations which top Indian leaders have been stressing the need for from time to time. Good neighbourly relations must be rooted in the understanding and appreciation of genuine concerns of neighbours and be based in a climate of mutual trust and confidence."

Following the heat of the denial from Dhaka, the BSF officials however remained silent. In a lukewarm response to the PTI correspondent in Shillong on June 13, the BSF IG Mr Srivastava vowed not to share additional information on Dhaka regarding the business enterprises and bank accounts run by ULFA in Bangladesh.

The Indian government officials tend to neglect the views from Bangladesh regarding the insurgents activities. So whenever a Bangladesh police/military official or even a ministry spokesman denies an allegation made by an Indian agency, we firmly believe that Bangladeshi agency was covering up the truth. But this time, a prominent English daily has rejected the allegation of a BSF IG through their investigative reporting. And It is hard to believe that "The Daily Star" would present fabricated news and even editorial to go against the BSF officer.

Now the question raised among the media activists in Northeast, whether the BSF IG (S C Srivastava) had used the media only for his personal benefit and hence is there a way to make him accountable to the media itself, if not to the Government of India.

Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More